The Role of the Client in Adult Guidance Research: An Irish Public Policy Issue
By Lucy Hearne
The recently published report Guidance for Life: An Integrated Framework for Lifelong Guidance in Ireland(NGF, 2007) sets out a vision for the future provision of guidance which is responsive to the needs of all Irish citizens and society overall. However, the current focus of Irish government policy to equate outcomes with public policy goals is impacting on adult guidance practice. The implementation of quality assurance systems is now a necessity, rather than a token requirement, in the Irish Adult Educational Guidance Initiative (AEGI).
To date, there has been a dearth of empirical research in the Republic of Ireland on the long-term outcomes of guidance intervention. Beginning in 2000, I have been a practicing adult guidance counselor. In 2004, I changed hats and became a full-time guidance researcher. My current research is examining the client's contribution to the design of quality tracking systems in adult guidance practice. This requires a deeper understanding of the process of long-term progression for clients which can only be achieved through an interpretive methodology. As guidance practitioners we may have subjective opinions of progression i.e. vertical progression into higher qualifications, career promotion, personal development, that may be far removed from the realities of our client's lives.
Adult Guidance in Ireland
The formalized structure of a national adult educational guidance service is still relatively new in Ireland. In 2000, the Department of Education and Science (DES) established the Adult Educational Guidance Initiative (AEGI) as part of its social inclusion policy. There are now 39 adult educational guidance projects in Southern Ireland providing educational and career guidance to adults from specific target groups. Currently, the evidence required by the DES to measure client progression is quantitative and categorized in terms of the hard outcomes of education and employment. Minimal heed is being paid to the softer outcomes of personal development experienced by our clients. Despite the considerable progress made to date, the AEGI has yet to implement a national quality assurance system. A summative evaluation of the AEGI is now underway with the findings due out at the end of 2008.
The Regional Educational Guidance Service for Adults (REGSA), based in Waterford Institute of Technology, was one of the first AEGI projects to be mainstreamed. At the end of 2004 I carried out an evaluation of the Regional Educational Guidance Service for Adults in which I practiced, (Hearne, 2005). The evaluation highlighted the limitations of using purely quantitative methods to measure client progression. This is now being addressed in my current study through qualitative interviews with clients who were involved in the previous evaluation study.
The Role of the Client in the Design of Longitudinal Tracking Systems
The importance of longitudinal tracking to assess the long-term outcomes of guidance intervention is well supported in guidance discourse and research. Nevertheless, evidence for the ultimate economic outcomes required by policy makers is still lacking in the field, (Kidd, 2006, Bimrose et al, 2004). Increasingly, it is argued that longitudinal studies are needed to allow for an understanding of the impact of guidance interventions and the nature of progression for users of career guidance services.
Up to this point there has been a lack of research on involving guidance service users (i.e. clients) in the development of public policy. This may be slowly changing with the growing conviction that end users should be actively involved in the development of public services, (Magnusson & Lalande, 2005). However, the current "top-down approach" favored by policy makers neglects to capture or reflect the views of learners in the education sector overall. The need for a "bottom-up approach" is now recognized in Ireland, (NGF, 2007). While the recent piloting of customer feedback forms by the AEGI in its evaluation of service provision is seen as an attempt to achieve this, the longitudinal tracking of client progression still needs to be addressed.
Furthermore, tracking systems that attempt to measure individual progression must take account of the wide variables experienced by clients. These include both the harder outcomes of education and employment attainment, and the softer outcomes of personal growth and development. This is evident from the client's stories which are providing greater insights into the process of individual progression. A balance needs to be achieved between quantitative and qualitative methods to adequately measure the long-term outcomes of guidance intervention.
Bimrose, J., Barnes, S., Hughes, D. & Orton, M. (2004) What is Effective Guidance? Evidence from Longitudinal Case Studies in England. (Available at: http://www2.warwick.acu.uk/)
Hearne, L. (2005) Opening a Door: Evaluating the Benefits of Guidance for the Adult Client; A Report. (Available at: www.regsa.org )
Kidd, J.M. (2006) Understanding Career Counselling, Theory, Research and Practice, London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Magnusson, K. & Lalande, V. (2005) The State of Practice in Canada in Measuring Career Service Impact: A CRWG report. (Available at: http://crccanada.org/crc)
Lucy Hearne, BA., H.Dip.CG., is a qualified Guidance Counsellor with a number of years experience in a variety of guidance settings including the Irish Adult Educational Guidance Initiative. She is currently undertaking a Phd (in Adult Guidance) through the School of Education, Waterford Institute of Technology, Republic of Ireland.. In 2006 she was awarded an Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences Scholarship (IRCHSS) for the duration of her postgraduate studies. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org